Monday, September 23, 2013

Memo: Books & Labyrinths

If one were to ask Borges, Bolano and Dick to describe reality, their answers might astound.

Each man could express some version of a conspiracy involving us in a plot where we’re trying to get some traction in life.

Their books are labyrinths occluding the secret of a “god” wishing to remain hidden…of a demiurge whose name has no vowels…where creature would serve crtr if crtr had its way.

For Borges, Tlon’s “plan is…vast:” “…this ‘brave new world’ was the work of a secret society…under the supervision of an unknown genius.”

Dick wonders whether the labyrinth is real or not, believing objective reality’s impossible because such a reality’s dependent upon perception. He calls his idea of a synchronistic collective unconscious projecting a group hallucination VALIS [Vast Active Living Intelligence System].

One adjective describing Bolano’s search for visceral reality, after “savage,” might be “vast.” Some read his work as a new internationalism. It certainly eviscerates diverse human realities, covering a psyche that thinks and feels itself into being across space, time and scale.

For Dick, actuality’s a matrix emerging from dreams of selves in places at times. Reality’s the individual’s perception of it: “Matter is plastic in the face of Mind.” Dick’s avatar, Horselover Fat, believes a situation’s enigma’s whether time’s real or not: “…a layer of…what the Greeks called ‘dokos’ obscures the landscape…dokos [appears] the layer of delusion or the merely seeming.”

Borges views actuality as a “heterogeneous series of independent acts. It is serial and temporal, but not spatial.” He writes how one of Tlon’s philosophical schools has gone so far as to deny the validity of time altogether, conjecturing “that our planet was created a few moments ago, and provided with a humanity which ‘remembers’ an illusory past.” Later, he describes the “process” as “a recurrent one…stranger and perfect…the ur…[being] an object brought into [existence] by hope.”

Bolano considers the world a “Communion of Coincidence…the manifestation of God at every moment.” Yet his fictions yield casts of Earthlings lost on Earth, people for whom “the poem is a joke covering up something more serious,” hoping to find that “wrinkle, the moment of superlucidity.”

For Bolano, “The only thing that mattered, abolishing death,” involves a human’s obligation to write. “Amalfitano,” perhaps a Bolano self-projection into 2666, seems “a man lost inside himself looking for the magic that makes life worthwhile…,” discovering its “equation: supply+demand+magic…[where] Magic is epic and it’s also sex and Dionysian mists and play.” For Bolano, life weaves an arabesque—a funhousepaddling past the graveyard.

The essence of Dick’s syzygian VALIS is animus grieving anima’s death. Dick’s trying to recuperate the twin sister he lost during infancy, a death for which he blames himself. Dick’s VALIS trilogy shows a “perturbation in the reality field in which a spontaneous self-monitoring negentropic vortex is formed, tending progressively to subsume and incorporate its environment into arrangements of information characterized by quasi-consciousness, purpose, intelligence, growth and armillary coherence"...meaning it makes sense in rings and spheres...being a twin trying to make sense of his twin’s death…It just can’t be real…this peeling away of the onion, these tears…

For Borges, his failing eyesight fuels his work. Ficciones strives for tangibility beyond the visible. The more languaged and imagined the universe is, the more objective and tangible it becomes. In Tlon, Borges imagines a planetary encyclopedia. And in “The Circular Ruins” he writes that “modeling the incoherent and vertiginous matter of which dreams are composed was the most difficult task that a man could undertake.” He fears this process will show us to be simulacra: “Not…[men, but] projection[s] of [an]other m[e]n’s dreams…”

The more each writer actualizes his reality in book form, the more that reality truly matters and the more precisely it [and they] can function within the world. They, like many of us, need to believe their work matters and will continue mattering. In other words, their books are being read—realizing—their labyrinths being traversed, and the material objects they’re perceiving transform over space-time because of a change in the reader’s mind while reading the text…altering the memory of the writer altering her text…in the future…

Borges’ universe seams together a “web of time—the strands of which approach one another, bifurcate, intersect or ignore each other through the centuries embracing every possibility.”

Dick writes “The maze shifts as you move through it, because it is alive.” Jean Baudrillard says Dick’s universe is a simulation where “we can no longer move through the mirror to the other side.”  We are mirrors. We are simulacra…shhh…Bolano says “Only in chaos are we conceivable,” which is “…a tapestry burned by the fire of seeming.”

So Borges, Bolano and Dick write of living worlds living to their own ends, formulating their own agendas. Their interests, operating on other scales, are not our interests, yet we and they seem entangled in the warmth of signifiers, feeling our ways through the darkness toward something we hope is real.

The world changes as mind changes. No mind, no world. Reality is perception is mind. And then it is again and again and again, here and elsewhere, being plural…

Thinking ourselves differently this time and that…ever dreaming of neverness…never the same, every way yet again and again within the given parameters…


Baudrillard, Jean. “Simulacra and Science Fiction.”
Bolano, Roberto. The Savage Detectives and 2666.
Borges, Jorge Luis. Ficciones.
Dick, Philip K. VALIS and Later Novels: A Mazeo of Death, VALIS, The Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer.


  1. I love the idea of a living maze. I don't know Dick's work as well as the other two, but these are perceptive insights into Bolano and Borges. Thanks.

    1. Jeff, I very highly recommend VALIS and Later Novels from the Library of America. It's four amazing works: A Maze of Death, VALIS, The Divine Invasion, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. Also, his Exegesis, which I've yet to read myself. There's a couple of decent online documentaries, too, that really get into what happened to PKD. If anyone in these non-apostolic times has been touched by divinity [if such a thing actually exists], I'd say it was he. What I like best about PKD, I think, is his non-literariness. He's just flat out saying something, over and over again, and in hindsight the reader can witness evolution at work, so to speak. Reading PKD has been one of the best reading experiences I've had this century.

      And thanks for the compliment, Jeff. Love the latest issue of Altered Scale.